Killing Gaddafi Doesn’t Make President Obama’s Actions In Libya Legal Or Justified

Gaddafi is dead, but it was still wrong for the United States to get involved in Libya.

Not surprisingly, the death of Muammar Gaddafi has led many in the media to claim that this somehow proves that the President was right when he made the decision, without consulting or seeking approval from Congress, to commit American military forces to Libya. Markos Moutsalis even when so far as to say this:

Tim Carney comments over at the Examiner:

The implication: If you objected to the President for illegally entering a war where vital U.S. interests were not at stake, you were wrong, because we killed Gadafhi. More briefly: Might makes right.

The liberal Center for American Progress made the same unliberal argument in August when Gadhafi lost control of the country, asking on twitter: “Does John Boehner still believe U.S. military operations in Libya are illegal?”

This disregard for the rule of law is particularly audacious because Kos and CAP helped bring Democrats to power by attacking Bush for his cowboy foreign policy.

Aside from the legal question, there’s the nation-building question. Kos and CAP have effectively shouted “Mission Accomplished” and flippantly dismiss the notion that a power vaccuum in Libya might help the terrorists or mire the U.S. in an ugly long-term engagement.

This issue came up back in August when the Gaddafi regime’s control of Tripoli collapsed and many people claimed that this was proof that the President was right to get involved in Libya. At that time, I said:

I’ve made my own opposition to intervention in Libya clear from the start. For one thing, it became eminently clear early on in the mission that the threat of a humanitarian crisis that was used to justify the United Nations Security Council Resolutions that justified the action was more of an excuse than anything else, and that the rebels themselves were likely greatly exaggerating the “abuses” of the Libyan regime in order to gain Western sympathy. More importantly, though, I opposed the action because of the overwhelming reasons to be against it. There was, to put it bluntly, no reason to involve ourselves in yet another military action at a time when our troops are already stretched to the limit thanks to two wars we’ve been fighting for ten years, one of which doesn’t seem to have any geographic limitation at all. There was no reason to spend money we don’t have to come to the rescue of allies who aren’t willing to make the investments necessary to protect our own interests. Most importantly, there was no reason to get involved in a conflict in which our own national interests were not implicated in any manner whatsoever.

Finally, there are the serious legal and Constitutional questions raised by the President’s course of action in Libya. Instead of seeking approval from Congress for the Libya mission, President Obama relied solely on a series of United Nations Security Council Resolutions that authorized force for the sole purpose of protecting civilians. That justification quickly went out the window, though, and it became rather obvious from the start that the United States and NATO were primarily concerned with aiding the rebels, despite their questionable ties, not protecting civilians. While the Administration did notify Congress of the action as required by the War Powers Act, they failed to seek Congressional approval for the same and showed no inclination that they thought they needed to notwithstanding previous statements by the President and the Vice-President to the contrary. When the 60 day WPA time limit approached, they made the absurd argument that the United States was not engaged in “hostilities.” Of course, Congress is partly responsible here as well considering that they failed to take any steps to challenge the President’s clear violation of the law. Nonetheless, the President fought an illegal war, and the fact that it worked doesn’t justify that fact that he acted improperly.

It’s a good thing that Gaddafi is dead, it’s an end he deserved years ago when he authorized the bombing of a Berlin disco in order to kill American soldiers. He deserved it when he authorized the murder of the hundreds of innocent civilians on Pan Am Flight 103. He deserved it for the decades in which his family stole the wealth of his country while the people lived in poverty. From the video and pictures that have come to light in the past 24 hours, it appears that he received the fate of Benito Mussolini and Nicolae Ceausescu, and he deserved that as well.

All of that is different, however, from the question of whether or not the President of the United States acted properly when he committed American military force to Libya in March. The answer to that question was no in March, it was no in August, and it is no today.

FILED UNDER: Africa, Barack Obama, National Security, Politicians, US Politics, World Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed for too young in July 2021.

Comments

  1. mantis says:

    So what do you want, Doug? Impeachment?

  2. I wanted Congress to act and assert the power granted to them under the Constitution. They failed to.

  3. Hey Norm says:

    Um…not acting is, in fact, taking action.

  4. mantis says:

    I wanted Congress to act and assert the power granted to them under the Constitution. They failed to.

    Understood, but that’s nothing new. Your contention here is that the president broke the law. Is it a high crime? Should Congress impeach? What do you want done about it?

  5. grumpy realist says:

    So what was President Obama supposed to do? Sit on his hands and twiddle his fingers while Qaddafi bombs his own people into smithereens, because Congress is dysfunctional? If Congress refuses to use the power it has, that’s a decision as well. They put the burden on the President; they now can’t turn around and squawk that he picked up the responsibility.

  6. James says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Well, then I suggest you start lobbying to your Representative and Senator. The current incentive structure fundamentally favors the presidency and nothing’s going to change until members of Congress see some electoral pressure.

  7. john personna says:

    I was reading someone this morning who was recounting that the US Government has, in its history, violated every right it claims to defend. We had horrors like the Trail of Tears and the Tuskegee experiment.

    If this is a violation of someone’s rights, it seems minor. The President supported a NATO action, without dotting his i’s or crossing his t’s. It was a value judgement between supporting NATO and risking the collateral damage.

    I think ongoing Predator drone attacks on civilian homes would be a better target, if you are looking for current injustice.

  8. john personna says:

    Oh, and I think it is important to note that Congress gave Obama implicit approval.

    This was not a secret bombing campaign. We’ve had those too, in our history.

  9. mantis says:

    Let me also point out that the AUMF justifies the US action in Libya as much as it did that in Iraq. Arguably moreso, considering that we know Gaddafi was behind a terrorist attack that killed 189 Americans.

    Of course, the AUMF is explicitly aimed at action against the perpetrators of 9/11, so I don’t think it really justifies our actions in Libya. But if you believe the AUMF justified Iraq, I’d love to hear the argument why it doesn’t do the same for Libya.

  10. @mantis:

    The October 2001 AUMF only authorized action against al-Qaeda.

    There was a separate vote in Congress authorizing action against Iraq.

    There was no vote in Congress authorizing action in Libya

  11. Tlaloc says:

    So what do you want, Doug? Impeachment?

    I can’t answer for Doug but I want the Dems to stop cheerleading Obama for the exact same bull^%$# which we excoriated Bush for. I want a little principle to win out over craven political opportunism. I want a little consistency and even honor from the Dems, instead of brazen ugly politics.

  12. john personna says:

    @Tlaloc:

    It is not the exact same bullshit. We do not have a trillion dollar pricetag, we do not have 4797 allied deaths, we do not have a 10 year commitment.

    Get some perspective.

  13. john personna says:

    (How many US veterans of Libya are dealing this morning with traumatic head injuries?)

  14. mantis says:

    The October 2001 AUMF only authorized action against al-Qaeda.

    There was a separate vote in Congress authorizing action against Iraq.

    My mistake. I forgot there was a separate Iraq authorization. The 2001 AUMF did not, however, only authorize action against al-Qaeda.

    That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.

  15. Hey Norm says:

    Tlaloc…
    “…I want the Dems to stop cheerleading Obama for the exact same bull^%$# which we excoriated Bush for…”
    No comparables come immediately to mind. What are you thinking of that’s the exact same?

  16. michael reynolds says:

    I agree that success in the end does not in itself justify the action.

    But if Congress wanted to assert itself it would have. As Norm points out, inaction is action, so Congress in effect said, “Go ahead.” It just did it without taking a stand or displaying any moral courage. This isn’t new.

    I also agree that it’s ridiculous to see cheerleading from some quarters of the left where this mission was never embraced earlier. Victory has a thousand fathers, failure is an orphan. Had this gone badly Kos and the others would be ranting.

    But it is hardly irrelevant that it has gone well. The fact that it has gone so well, on the heels of the Osama Bin Laden mission, goes to Mr. Obama’s skill and competence. It’s the end of the asinine and often racist GOP line that Obama was unready, too immature, too callow, even disloyal. Bulls–t. Obama is teaching a master class in diplomacy, foreign policy and in intervention. And he has done far, far more damage to international terrorism than Mr. Bush ever did.

    Mr. Reagan failed to get Gaddafi, Obama got him. Mr. Bush failed to get Osama, Obama did the job. Obama’s much-derided outreach to Muslims in the Cairo speech bore fruit in an American capacity to ride through the Arab spring. His intervention in Libya has moved us from ‘On the side of dictators” to “With the Arab people.” This is a more durable, survivable position to occupy.

    Obama is a pro. Mr. Bush was a bumbler. Republicans don’t like that fact — they dislike it so much they can’t even bring themselves to congratulate Obama on his deft handling of this — but it’s true nevertheless.

  17. john personna says:

    Two weeks after the U.S. killed American citizen Anwar Awlaki with a drone strike in Yemen — far from any battlefield and with no due process — it did the same to his 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, ending the teenager’s life on Friday along with his 17-year-old cousin and seven other people. News reports, based on government sources, originally claimed that Awlaki’s son was 21 years old and an Al Qaeda fighter (needless to say, as Terrorist often means: “anyone killed by the U.S.”), but a birth certificate published by The Washington Post proved that he was born only 16 years ago in Denver.

    Is Libya an easier political target than the drones for some reason?

  18. Thomas says:

    Ummm…no Americans killed? Tell that to the family of Chris Hondros!!! He never would have been there if not for the NATO intervention

  19. Nikki says:

    @Thomas: Chris Hondros was engaged in military action against Gaddafi? He was a photojournalist who would probably have been in Libya to document the revolution whether NATO was there or not.

  20. john personna says:

    @Thomas:

    That’s kind of dumb, Thomas. Hondros’ death was sad, but it was not his first rodeo:

    Hondros left his job at The Fayetteville Observer in 1998 to return to New York and concentrate on international reporting. From his base in New York, Hondros worked in most of the world’s major conflict zones since the late 1990s, including Kosovo, Angola, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Kashmir, the West Bank, Iraq, and Liberia.

  21. ponce says:

    Tim Carney comments over at the Examiner:

    What was the point of quoting such an impotent partisan fart from such a low grade political hack like Carney?

    Were insights on Libya from Special Ed at Hot Air unavailable?

  22. Liberty60 says:

    I think ongoing Predator drone attacks on civilian homes would be a better target, if you are looking for current injustice.

    Agreed.
    I also am not supportive of the Libya action, but it pales in comaprison to the drone wars, or more broadly, the ability of Presidents to engage in war anywhere, anytime, without Congressional approval.

    What Bush did, and now Obama is doing is exactly what the Founders wanted to avoid- unilateral warmaking without the consent of the people.

    This isn’t some niggling detail of legalism- going to war is the most important thing a nation can do, and we are doing it casually, carelessly, without the full support and deliberation it deserves.

    This sort of thing always ends badly, eventually.

  23. Tlaloc says:

    It is not the exact same bullshit. We do not have a trillion dollar pricetag, we do not have 4797 allied deaths, we do not have a 10 year commitment.

    Ah, so in your mind if Iraq had simply cost a bit less money and a little less blood then it would have been just fine. I see. Your complaint wasn’t about it being foreign interventionism or the collateral damage or the inevitable blow back, it was simply about the price tag. Your complaint was one of degree rather than nature.

    I hope to hell you do not speak for many on the left, frankly. To completely gloss over all the myriad wrongs of Iraq and Afghanistan in favor of the econ 101 view is rather horrifyingly shallow.

  24. Tlaloc says:

    No comparables come immediately to mind.

    You aren’t trying very hard then. In Iraq we chose to support one side of a sectarian conflict that overthrew their long time despotic ruler, who posed no threat to us, mostly because of the presence of valuable national resources and how it dovetailed with neocon ideals of american exceptionalism (i.e. our “right” to blow up &^%$ in other countries when Locheed needs a stock boost).

    that’s exactly the same. The same shortsightedness. The same greed. The same indifference to casualties we cause with heavy handed military solutions delivered via drone. The same.

    That it was done by a dem president changes nothing.

  25. john personna says:

    @Tlaloc:

    Ah, so in your mind if Iraq had simply cost a bit less money and a little less blood then it would have been just fine.

    Straw man much?

  26. john personna says:

    (If it would have cost very much less in blood and money, and been UN sanctioned, then yes, it might have been fine. The thing that made it stupid, really stupid, is that it failed pragmatic tests of Realpolitik, before you got to questions of morality. And yes, a war should be practical as a first test, not a second.)

  27. Tlaloc says:

    (If it would have cost very much less in blood and money, and been UN sanctioned, then yes, it might have been fine. The thing that made it stupid, really stupid, is that it failed pragmatic tests of Realpolitik, before you got to questions of morality. And yes, a war should be practical as a first test, not a second.)

    No getting it on the cheap would in no way whatsoever have made up for the all the great moral failings of the war. Cheap evil is still evil.

    Straw man much?

    Obviously not, as I was responing to your direct quote which you yourself made clear in your second reply. I don’t think it is too much to ask that you at least understand your side of the argument..

  28. anjin-san says:

    In Iraq we chose to support one side of a sectarian conflict that overthrew their long time despotic ruler,

    That is not even close to being what happened. There was no sectarian conflict before we attacked Iraq. Saddam ruled with an iron fist and any dissent was suppressed ruthlessly and instantly.

    What did happen was we unilaterally attacked Iraq on a trumped up WMD charge because the neocons hard a hard on for Iraq and 9.11 provided a pretext for the war they wanted all along. WE overthrew Saddam, and in doing so we created the sectarian conflict.

    This is not the first time you have presented an argument based on facts that are not facts.

  29. Davebo says:

    Doug,

    What were you doing in mid April of 1986?

    Loudly protesting? Speaking out out against illegal military action?

    The fact that your were probably unaware of that action is really irrelevant. Perhaps you were just really stoned at the time.

    But since you seem to have a copious amount of time on your handa these days (while seemingly being more sober) perhaps you could pontificate on your opinions of Reagan’s actions. And what has changed in the meantime as well as what forces were utilized.

  30. john personna says:

    @Tlaloc:

    1000 times less is not “a bit less.”

    Was “straw man” the wrong kind of fallacy for that absurd distortion?

    What kind of distortion was it?

  31. john personna says:

    @Tlaloc:

    BTW, I certainly never said I thought Iraq won the moral test. I just said it failed the more basic, primary, test of practicality and Realpolitik. I argued against invasion on that basis.

    Note also that while we might have had the moral right to pursue Bin Laden, the British and Russian experiences argued against a long-term occupation in Afghanistan.

    Again, in Afghanistan, cost matters.

  32. john personna says:

    @Tlaloc:

    Note that if we use “US deaths” then Libya was actually infinitely less costly than Iraq/Afghanistan.

    But I’ll be generous and call it just 5000 times less.

    Do you think you are making a good, honest, rational argument when you spin 5000 times less as “a bit less?”

  33. Tlaloc says:

    There was no sectarian conflict before we attacked Iraq.

    No sectarian conflict? Are you insane? There was a huge history of shia vs sunni vs kurd. That didn;t just start when we invaded. It had been going on a long time.

    This is not the first time you have presented an argument based on facts that are not facts.

    Right or you don’t know what the hell you are talking about. Like at all. There was a ton of sectarian conflict in Iraq before we invaded. There were the kurdish massacres, there was the uprising by the Sunni going all the way back to the first gulf war. Hell there was all the stuff around Saddam’s rise to power.

  34. Tlaloc says:

    1000 times less is not “a bit less.”
    Was “straw man” the wrong kind of fallacy for that absurd distortion?
    What kind of distortion was it?

    It wasn’t, that’s the point.

    BTW, I certainly never said I thought Iraq won the moral test. I just said it failed the more basic, primary, test of practicality and Realpolitik. I argued against invasion on that basis.

    So it fails the moral test but if it manages to be practical in its evil you cheer-lead it anyway? What the hell, man? How about starting with the moral issue first since it is obviously the more important one. If anything, well executed evil should be considered worse than inept evil.

    Do you think you are making a good, honest, rational argument when you spin 5000 times less as “a bit less?”

    Again you’re arguing degrees while admitting the fundamental distinction is on my side. the morality is clear, that it was accomplished with a lot less (happy?) deaths on our side is not exactly the winning argument you seem to think it is. It was still WRONG. Why do you want to excuse that so badly?

    Your argument is nothing more than “Sure, but he made the trains run on time…” apologia.

  35. Tlaloc says:

    there was the uprising by the Sunni

    sorry should have been uprising by the Shia

  36. john personna says:

    @Tlaloc:

    I’m a firm believer in the old maxim that “a difference in size can make a difference in kind.”

    And as I’ve said before, I like the “three orders of magnitude” rule.

    In a lot of places in life three orders matter.

    You are trapped, in your argument or in your mind, if you think three orders of magnitude less is “a little less.”

    Go back to school

  37. john personna says:

    BTW,

    So it fails the moral test but if it manages to be practical in its evil you cheer-lead it anyway?

    I never said that. You’ve just been putting those words in my mouth in order to make up your own argument

    You are an idiot and a cheat.

  38. anjin-san says:

    No sectarian conflict? Are you insane? There was a huge history of shia vs sunni vs kurd. That didn;t just start when we invaded. It had been going on a long time.

    Not much of a conflict. When someone pissed Saddam off, he slaughtered them, and maybe their neighbors and in-laws just to be safe. Your attempt to create equivelence between Iraq and Libya is a joke. There was a civil war going in Libya when we got in. The rebellions of the late 80s and early 90s in Iraq had long since been crushed. Saddam faced no threat to his power from within whatsoever when we invaded.

    you don’t know what the hell you are talking about

    If you have a few hours, I would be glad to provide a lecture about the Ottoman Empire, it’s fall, and the aftermath of it’s breakup. We can also cover the establishment of the Kingdom of Iraq, and the Republic of Iraq, as well as the rise of the Ba’ath Party and it’s impact on Iraqi society.

    There were the kurdish massacres

    That was not a conflict that threatened Saddams power, or much of a conflict at all. As you yourself pointed out, it was a massacre. And it took place in the 80’s. It’s linkage to our attack on Iraq exists pretty much in your imagination. After Gulf I there was a rebellion that we encouraged. Saddam slaughtered everyone involved, and quite a few other folks, just to be sure. Again, what does this have to do with 2003? Nothing. These conflicts were resolved more than a decade before we attacked. They flared back up after we deposed Saddam.

    There was a huge history of shia vs sunni vs kurd

    Because there was a history of it does not mean there was open conflict in 2003. The key world there is “history”.

    Tell you what. You provide details about the civil war that was going on in Iraq immediately prior to our invasion. I will stand by.

  39. wall_e essa says:

    I am an Arab. I hate politics Alammerakh. Because it kills people for their personal interests